Southwest Ohio called ‘critically important’ in NASA’s push for exploration

Southwest Ohio is “critically important” to NASA’s mission as it works to once again send Americans into space — and possibly to Mars a decade or more from now — through businesses making “generational leaps” in the technology, the agency’s administrator said after a visit to the area.

Overall, the aerospace industry is a $150 billion export for the United States, and aerospace is the only industry that runs a trade surplus, said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who was with Ohio and Kentucky congressmen and regional leaders in aerospace and aeronautics industries at a roundtable Friday in Covington, Ky.

The aerospace and aircraft industries are Ohio and Kentucky's top exports. Aerospace products and parts were Kentucky's largest export at $12.5 billion in 2018, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, while aircraft engines and parts were Ohio's top export at $5.2 billion, according to the trade research organization Word's Top Exports.

That is why Bridenstine called Southwest Ohio — home to GE Aviation and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which he called “very important to the American economy” — a key part of NASA’s mission.

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NASA’s vision that Bridenstine conveyed at Friday’s roundtable, which includes restarting America’s spaceflight program, “is contagious,” said Congressman Warren Davidson, R-Troy. And it’s exciting, he said, to know the region will have a significant part in sending Americans to the moon, with plans to go to Mars by the 2030s.

“There’s a long supply chain in the area and a lot of companies involved in (NASA),” said Davidson, who represents Ohio’s 8th Congressional District. “I think you look at the vision that’s there for space and aerospace, and we know from our area … the whole region is tied to space and aerospace.”

Ohio is where aviation was born when Dayton’s Wright brothers designed the world’s first airplane that eventually took flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Ohio is also home to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, and John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.

Bridenstine said he was “impressed” with the region’s supply chain, which includes large and small companies that are “doing really impressive work” for NASA.

“I’m hoping I was able to impart on them how important it is for the nation that they continue to do the amazing work that they’ve been doing,” he said.

But if America is going to maintain its position in leading the aerospace industry, NASA and the companies that support the industry will “have to continue to leap ahead in technology by generational leaps,” he said. That’s where NASA’s partnership with companies benefits the country, and the world, Bridenstine said.

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NASA's administrator made a number of stops Friday, including at Florence, Ky.-based Mazak Corp., which makes the tools for creating parts that are installed into NASA's rockets and other mechanisms.

“We’re seeing really significant breakthroughs in material sciences and engineering that have these big gains, like 15 percent increases in efficiency of an engine, which is significant, not only from a cost perspective but from an environmental perspective and a noise perspective,” Bridenstine said.

Cincinnati-based CFM Engines, a joint venture of GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft Engines, has produced the LEAP engine, which is 15 percent more efficient than the CFM56 engine that is used in many commercial airliners, such as with Airbus and Boeing jet airliners.

“We have a big agenda in space and within the atmosphere,” said Bridenstine. “This year we’re going to launch American astronauts from American soil on American rockets for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles back in 2011. It’s going to be a big day and it’s going to happen this year.”

He said this will be an important first step to return Americans to the moon, and eventually to Mars.

“And we go to Mars with a lot of hopes that we’re going to make discoveries that will forever change and add to science books and to history books,” he said. “This is a big agenda for our country, and we are once again leading the world and we want to continue doing that.”

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